The Art, Science, and Engineering of Lifestyle

As a software engineer, system & network administrator, and general computer scientist there are a few things I’ve picked up over my career:

  • Anything with “science” is usually more art than science

  • Plagiarism is where ALL the experts start

  • Everything must be sustainable and scalable

  • Automation is the key

  • The finished product is always the result of incrementalism

Previously, we more or less defined the Paleo Lifestyle in What is Paleo?, beginning what will be a multi-part series. This article will take a different approach and discuss how these basic tenets of engineering apply to our everyday lives; both how they can trap us into a SAD lifestyle, and how we can use them to succeed in changing our lives by taking control and using them to our advantage.

We’ll start with the first two on the list. To call the Paleo Lifestyle a science is a stretch.  Science usually implies a strict adherence to a particular set of rules.  For the unknowns, we have “The Scientific Method”, for the knowns, we have Laws, Theories, and Corollaries discovered and arrived at through previous applications of said method.  But what do we have in our daily lives when it’s time to eat?

For the most part, there are not real rules to govern our daily food habits.  Sure, we’ve got the USDA’s Food Pyramid or MyPlate as they’re now calling it.  But has anyone actually looked at that and said, “Gee, my plate doesn’t have enough grains based on that picture from the USDA?”  Of course not.  Most people pay little attention to the actual advice from our government (for more proof of this, check out all the free, and hugely useful advice the IRS has available at *their* site that everyone also ignores, and instead pays CPAs to do their taxes for them!).  Our dietary habits are mostly formed by what we grow up with, what Mom & Dad put in front of us, and, what we subliminally pick up from the media.  On rare occasions, when we feel we need to lose some weight, we might investigate the latest fad diet guaranteed to return to us the bodies we had (or think we had) in high school.

On average, our food choices are dictated by mostly by marketing, somewhat by friends and family, and a lot by convenience.  And it’s that last one that really does us in.  We’ll deal with the convenience factor more in “The Sacrifice of Automation”, but suffice it to say for now that convenience plays a huge role in our dietary choices.

So how to do we fix this?  Knowing that there is a problem is half the battle. Fixing it is the other half.  But where do we start?  Things that are not really a science, or don’t seem to be, often feel overwhelming. Consider playing the piano.  Everyone would *like* to play the piano. Listen to Mozart, or Beethoven, and you have this overwhelming urge to want to create beautiful and powerful music just like that.  Or the guitar.  For me, I listen to Led Zeppelin or Joe Satriani, and , in my mind I’m right there on stage with them cranking out that intensity.  Pure art. Pure art and emotion. There’s no science involved when a master applies his or her craft!

Jimmy Page

Art, emotion, passion, and intensity!

But how do I get there?  I can’t play a single chord on either instrument, let alone create a song like ‘Rock and Roll’ or ‘Summer Song’.  What an overwhelming proposition.  To go from 0 to 60, and add all this upheaval to life by changing something we’ve always more or less taken for granted.  That’s exactly what many people face when deciding to adopt the Paleo Lifestyle.  They’ll hear about it, just like hearing a song on the radio, or Pandora these days, and think to themselves, “Wow, if I could play like that!”, “If only I could change my life and lose that weight like them!”.

Joe Satriani

“Wow, if I could play like that!”

But often, it’s just that.  A thought.  And “poof!”, it’s gone. The song ends. We realize that it’s too much work, too overwhelming, too complicated.  And we go right back to what we were doing.

But sometimes that song stays in our heads for a while.  We find ourselves at work, or driving around on our way to pick up the kids and we’re singing the words, or humming the tune.  Thinking, “What if I could do it? But where would I start?  How do I get there?”

This is where the Science and Engineering comes into play. In science there are rules to follow, guidelines to lead us, and experiments to try. In Engineering there processes to follow, short-cuts to take, and, in most cases, people who have “been there, done that”. And the Paleo Lifestyle, in this respect is no different from the application of Science and Engineering.

So let’s start there, with identifying this as a scientific experiment and an engineering process with rules and guidelines.  Once we realize, if it’s important enough to us, that we can go and hire a music instructor, we realize that learning an instrument is very procedural…at first.  We learn the basics.  We must build on the fundamentals, for without them, we can never achieve the mastery of the artist.

Paleo Flow Chart

Apply basic scientific rules to your food choices!

The rules of the Paleo diet are fairly simple.  They are essentially this:

  • Eat real, whole, nutrient-dense foods that nourish our body (these include: meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, leafy greens, some fruits, a few nuts, and healthy fats)

  • Avoid packaged, highly processed “food products”

  • Avoid certain “whole foods” which are problematic to the human body; specifically: Grains, legumes, dairy, and sugar (practically, this means, wheat, soy beans and peanuts, milk, ice cream, cheese, and all forms of sugar)

(NOTE: we’ll get into more discussion of why we avoid those things, and what this really means in a future article).

The Engineering process we apply to get started looks likes this:

  • Clear your house of all problematic foods listed above

  • Pick a date on the calendar as your “start date”

  • For thirty days from your “start date” eat only foods NOT on the list above.  i.e. eat real, whole, nutrient-dense foods that nourish your body!

  • At the end of the thirty days, you may, if you wish, re-introduce any of the foods on the “avoid” list in a methodical manner to determine if you have some kind of allergy or sensitivity to them.

  • Continue eating real, whole, nutrient-dense foods that nourish your body MOST OF THE TIME forever.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

That’s it really.  Just do “that stuff” all the time, and you will succeed at changing your life.  And over time you will adapt, finding your own engineering shortcuts to save time.  Eventually, you will turn this into an art.

For me to play like Jimmy Page or Joe Satriani would take a lifetime of practice and application.  I’m okay with that, especially if I have set my mind to it and feel in my heart this is the road I have to follow. But even then, no matter how long or how often I practice, I’ll never be as good as them, I’ll never play their songs as well, or even sound exactly like them.  I am not them.  Ever notice how you rarely hear the cover of a classic song that sounds as great as the original? It’s almost never done (two exceptions come to mind: anything written by Bob Dylan is automatically better when played by someone else, and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s cover of Little Wing by Jimi Hendrix is, in fact, the only cover which exceeds the beauty of the original, but I digress).  We are all originals.  Joe is never going to play a Zeppelin song as well as Jimmy plays it, and Jimmy will never play a Satch song even close to how Joe plays his own stuff.

George Bryant

I’ll never be George!

I am never going to be a George Bryant of CCCC, nor am I going to match Bill and Hayley’s elegant simplicity or Paul Adair’s flair for 5 Star Restaurant-quality presentations on the nightly family dinner table.  But none of them are ever going to make a burger or meat sauce to my satisfaction.  I am not them, and they are not me.  But just like Joe was heavily influenced by Jimmy Page (and really, what guitarist hasn’t been?) I look over the shoulders of Bill & Hayely, George and Paul, and borrow from them incessantly. That’s what they’re there for.  They are some of the many master artists of our new chosen way of feeding and nourishing our bodies.


Science and engineering: cold, callous, and unemotional, but precise!

Science and engineering are cold.  They are strict, emotionless, unyielding, and rigid.  They lack heart and soul.  But they are absolutely essential to everything.  Without them, we have chaos.  Art is beauty and emotion.  Art has passion, color, and intensity.  It is warm, loving, and comfortable.  Art is what makes life worth living and reminds us that living should be art.

Jimi Hendrix

Art has passion, color, and intensity!

We start out our adoption of this healthier way of eating by a simple, repetitive, time-proven application of cold, hard science and engineering.  We continue it by fostering relationships with those who have turned it into a passionate art form and show us how to bring that passion and intensity to our dinner table, to share it with our friends and family, improving our health, and our lives in the process.

Stay tuned, for next time, we discuss The Sacrifice of Automation, and how to apply it to our science experiment!

 Note: I would like to thank my friends Brooke and Tonja for taking time out of their insanely busy schedules to assist with this article. And I deeply appreciate George Bryant for granting me permission for the use of his picture.  I would also love to say that Jimmy Page, Joe Satriani, and Jimi Hendrix also personally granted my the use of their pictures, but sadly, my requests went unanswered.  But they have my undying gratitude none the less, and I continue to purchase their music as a form of repayment 🙂

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